MISSION VIEJO -- The one sticking point in Mission Viejo's game this season was supposed to be its defense. The offense? Loaded. The defense? Well, everyone wanted to talk about the offense.
But if there was disparity between the two sides of the ball, the gap closed Friday night as the home Mission Viejo defense led the way in a tough 17-12 nonleague victory over Long Beach Poly.
It's the fourth time in four games that Mission Viejo (3-1), ranked No. 4 in the ESPNLA top 25, has beaten Poly (3-1), which came into the game ranked No. 2.
The defense, led by Ryan Harris and Colin Dzubnar, limited Poly to just two field goals. The only touchdown created by the Jackrabbits came when Randall Goforth returned an interception 85 yards for a score with 5 minutes 16 seconds left. The two-point conversion failed. Still, it made the final five minutes a lot more interesting as Poly was just one play from winning.
The Mission Viejo defense set up the offense for 10 points. Garrett Marino recovered a fumble on the game's first play that led to a 27-yard drive, and Anthony Pierce's interception late in the third quarter -- with a 23-yard return -- gave Mission the ball at the Poly 14; Zach Christensen kicked a 28-yard field goal for a 17-6 lead.
"I'm very happy, I'm ecstatic," said Mission Viejo coach Bob Johnson. "We beat a good team. They were revved up and ready to go. That's a good football team and I'm sure they'll be in the playoffs, and I'm sure we will too. I'm happy. There was some sputtering here and some sputtering there -- it's high school football.
"Our defense, I'm so proud of them."
Poly gained only nine yards in 18 rushing attempts, and quarterback Chaiyse Hales completed 10 of 18 passes for 92 yards.
The game got off to a great start for Mission Viejo as Hales fumbled the opening snap and Marino recovered at the 27. On fourth and seven, Alex Bridgford connected with D.J. Wilson for a 24-yard score and a 7-0 lead.
After a seven-yard punt gave Poly possession at its 47, it drove to the nine-yard line before Hayden Hunt connected on a 26-yard field goal with 1:02 left in the first quarter.
Mission drove 75 yards and again converted on a fourth-down play as Bridgford lobbed to Brandon Neville for a five-yard score and a 14-3 lead. After a three-and-out, Mission nearly put the game away, but Max Redfield was whistled for an offensive pass interference on his 68-yard score on third and 19. Mission punted and Poly gained possession at the Mission 46; Hunt hit a 27-yard field goal with 2:15 to go to make it 14-6.
Mission Viejo nearly scored before the half ended, driving from its 22 to the Poly nine before Salamo Fiso intercepted a Bridgford pass. It was the first of three interceptions thrown by Bridgford, who also fumbled twice and lost one. Maybe that was the most impressive thing of the night: Mission Viejo's defense allowed it to win against a good team on a night it committed four turnovers.
"I had a lot of mental errors, and I need to pick that up," said Bridgford, who completed 13 of 28 passes for 209 yards. "I'll come back next week ... and get better."